Myron Bennett "Pinky" Thompson (1924-2001) - A Life of Service

Articles on Thompson

A Life of Service by Sam Low

Advertiser article by Mike Gordon

Starbulletin article by Treena Shapiro

PVS Newsletter Summer 1998

PVS Newsletter 1996

PVS Newsletter 1997

Malama Hawaii / Ka`ana, Molokai

Aloha, Wrighto

Aricles by Nainoa Thompson

Finding a Way 
Hawaiiloa
Voyage of Rediscovery
The Wayfinder

Articles by Sam Low

The Old Men of Tautira
Tautira: Hokulea's Home
Sacred Forest I

One Species or a Million

Articles by Ben Finney

Polynesia's Past I
Polynesia's Past III
Polynesia's Past IV

One Species or a Million

In search of the Ancient Voyaging Canoe

Aotearoa to Samoa 1976

Canoe Swamping 1978

The Seekers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Articles

Tautira: Hokule'a's Home
in Tahiti

by Sam Low

I first visited Pape'ete in 1966 when it was a somewhat somnolent seaside town with a few visiting yachts tied up to the quay along the main street. There were low buildings along the street and there was a famous bar, called Quinns, which had a rough reputation. Today there are a few places left from that earlier time, such as the grand avenues in back of the main street where the old French Colonial buildings still stand and the Hotel Royal Pape'ete which was then the best in town but has now been overshadowed by many new and more luxurious hotels on the city's outskirts. Now there is a car dealership on the main street along with three banks, office buildings that rise a number of stories, boutiques and restaurants. The bars are fancy in the French manner, which means expensive and with an "I could care less if you sit there waiting for your drink" attitude which passes for a kind of island weltzschmertz. The Banyan trees that I remember from my first visit still cast pools of shade along the long thin park beside the main street and locals with tattoos still sit under them talking in a mix of Tahitian and French and watching life pass by. The popping and squealing of tiny motor scooters is familiar from the early days but is now almost drowned out by the roar of big diesel tourist busses and Mercedes trucks and the street is clouded with fumes. Pape'ete has become a place that, if you know better, you leave as soon as possible.

Hokule'a's home port in Tahiti is in the village of Tautira an hour's drive from Pape'ete on a road that winds through a landscape of utilitarian architecture - burgeoning strip malls, gas stations, lotissemonts - a French-Polynesian version of suburban sprawl. Following the road, the hubbub of uncontrolled development gradually subsides to be replaced by gentler scenery more reminiscent of an earlier time. The air clears of fumes. Mountain peaks jostle toward the shore presenting waterfalls and vistas into deep valleys. The paved road ends in Tautira.

Robert Louis Stevenson visited Tautira in 1888 on a cruise through the South Seas. "One November night in the village of Tautira," he wrote to a friend, "we sat at the high table in the hall of assembly, hearing the natives sing. It was dark in the hall, and very warm; though at times the land wind blew a little shrewdly through the chinks, and at times, through the larger openings, we could see the moonlight on the lawn... You are to conceive us, therefore, in strange circumstances and very pleasing; in a strange land and climate, the most beautiful on earth; surrounded by a foreign race that all travelers have agreed to be the most engaging... We came forth again at last, in a cloudy moonlight, on the forest lawn which is the street of Tautira. The Pacific roared outside upon the reef. Here and there one of the scattered palm-built lodges shone out under the shadow of the wood, the lamplight bursting through the crannies of the wall."

Tautira has changed since then, of course. The "palm-built lodges" are long gone, replaced by neat bungalows of wood or cinderblock with metal roofs. But the mountains of the Vai Te Pi Ha Valley still rise above the village and the Pacific still roars upon the reef and the swells still make a solid white line on an azure gin-clear sea. In the lagoon it is calm. There are stands of tall coconut palm along the shore along with ironwood, milo, mango and ulu trees with leaves that open like human hands, yellow in the palm, dark green at the finger tips. Small fishing skiffs are parked in many lawns. There is a public water tap by the Mairie - the Mayor's office - and many village women come here to wash their clothes; hanging them out to dry in the yard of the Mairie, pareus of many colors and designs. Driving into the village, the valley opens wide, revealing peaks deep inside, masked in cloud. The slopes are light green with ferns. Mango trees stand above the ferns and lower there are hala trees in groves. Tautira remains, as Stevenson wrote more than a hundred years ago, "a strange land and climate, the most beautiful on earth."

Nainoa Thompson first visited Tautira in 1976 as a crewmember aboard Hokule'a. There he met Puaniho Tauotaha, one of the village elders, a fisherman, canoe paddler, and canoe carver, a man of immense physical and spiritual strength.

"You could be in the canoe house," Nainoa remembers, "and there was laughter and singing and people talking but when Puaniho got up to speak there was complete silence. I didn't know what he was saying but it felt like an oration. And if he wasn't doing that he never said anything. When he coached the canoe paddlers he hardly said a word. He was an extremely quiet man. Very religious, very disciplined. He was the edge of the old times."

After her famous maiden voyage to Tahiti, Hokule'a sailed from village to village along the coast. Wherever she stopped, the crew was hosted like visiting royalty. Nainoa had yet to sail aboard the canoe on a long voyage and although he had prepared for the return trip he was nervous and he was embarrassed by the attention.

"We would prance into these parties and sit down and they would feed us food and beer all night as if we were some very special people - which we were not," he remembers.

"We sailed into Tautira, the last stop in Tahiti, and we anchored and I had just had enough. I told Kawika, the captain, 'I will stay aboard the canoe.' The current was strong. We had two anchors and the bottom was coral and they were not going to hold well so I was worried. 'We are so close to leaving,' I thought, 'what if the anchors drag and we damage the canoe?'"

Kawika agreed that Nainoa could stay aboard while the rest of the crew went to the party in the village. That afternoon Nainoa enjoyed the solitude. The canoe bobbed serenely at her anchorage. The sun began to settle over the nearby mountains.

"Finally, the sun went down behind Tahiti Nui," Nainoa remembers, "and I saw this little girl, maybe four or five years old, on the beach and she had a flower in her ear and she was waving to me to come on shore. She just kept on waving. So I went on shore and she grabbed me with hands so small that she could just hold two of my fingers. She took me by the hand and led me down the road and into a simple house with a dirt floor. They had put in some picnic tables and they had the whole crew in there and they were feeding them shrimp and steak and all kinds of food. Somebody would stand behind you and if your beer glass got half empty they would fill it up. They had canoe paddles on the wall. Puaniho came in. He was the stroker for the old time canoe paddlers. He sat down. He had powerful eyes. He was poor in material things but he was a very strong and powerful man. He couldn't speak English and I couldn't speak French or Tahitian. We sat there and we spent the evening with him. It was just overwhelming how much the people of the village give when they had so little to give. They didn't have a floor in their house, much less beer and steak to share. I felt awkward. Here was this Hawaiian group who really didn't know a damn thing about sailing and they were treating us as if we were special people."

"We sailed back to Pape'ete and we were staying in a hostel," Nainoa continues. "Two days before we left I was sleeping in my room and about four o'clock in the morning I woke up. Puaniho's wife was pulling me by my toes and waving to me to go outside. So I got my clothes on and we went outside. She couldn't speak any English and so she just signaled to get in her truck. We drove all the way back to Tautira, early in the morning, as the sun came up. I sat in the truck and we went to every house, every house, and we stopped and they filled that truck up with food. By the time we drove back to Pape'ete I was sitting on a mound of food - banana, taro, mango, uru - everything. There was no verbal communication. Puaniho drove right up to the canoe. He knew exactly what he was going to do. They put all the food aboard and then he drove off."

"Somehow Puaniho knew that I was nervous about the trip. I was even considering not going. The next day he came back and he had carved a wooden cross, a necklace, and he gave it to me. That was when I knew that I had to go."

When Nainoa returned to Hawai'i aboard Hokule'a in 1976, he told his grandmother, Clorinda Lucas, and his parents, Pinky and Laura Thompson about Puaniho and the hospitality the crew had received in Tautira.

"I told that story to my grandmother and to my mom and dad and you can imagine what that meant to them. They knew that I was afraid - that I felt that I was not prepared. And these Tahitians knew what to do to care for me and the crew by giving us what they could - their food and their aloha."

In 1977, Nainoa invited Tautira's Maire Nui Canoe Club to Hawai'i to compete in the Moloka'i Race. About fifty people arrived. Pinky and Laura moved out of their home in the Niu Valley as did Nainoa and his sister Lita and her husband Bruce Blankenfeld. They converted the Hui Nalu canoe shed into a dormitory with bunk beds on loan from the National Guard. For a month Nainoa and his family hosted their Tahitian guests. It was the beginning of many such exchanges between the people of Hawaii and Tautira.

Maire Nui won the race. "All the other crews were competing for second place," Nainoa remembers. They returned twice more, winning each time, and retired the famous Outrigger Canoe Club cup which now sits in the house of Sonny Matehau Salmon -- Hokule'a's host whenever she visits Tautira.

"If you understand how anxious my parents and grandmother were during the 1976 voyage, you can understand how grateful they were for the hospitality shown to us by the people of Tautira. And you can understand how they would move out of their house and give it to them and feed them for a month. That's why Sonny says 'This we will never forget and this is why we will always take care of you when you visit Tahiti.' And then you can also understand why Hokule'a has to come back to Tautira whenever we come to Tahiti."

"For me, Tautira is not just a beautiful physical place. It is a symbol for the kinds of values that we think are important," Nainoa says. "I learned from the people of Tautira that there are other ways to measure wealth besides the things that you accumulate. The people of Tautira are extremely happy when they see that we are happy. When they give to you they feel rich themselves. That is what Tautira is all about."